Greetings fellow San Juan Building Association members,
On Monday Feb. 27th a group of San Juan Island business people met with Mike Thomas, County Manager and David Williams, Planning Director to discuss difficulties we are experiencing in getting land use permit approvals.
I was there to represent the SJBA so here is my summary from the discussions:
· The meeting started at 3pm. After some introductions, I asked Mike Thomas to give us a progress report on the issues we brought to him in the first meeting. The list of issues include: courtesy and respect from planning staff to the public, staff training, open, consistency of code interpretations, prompt communication (return emails and phone calls promptly), use of a clearly defined list of critical area reports that supplement applications, and other submittals in the pre applications stage, staff acceptance of reports from licensed professionals. Mike Thomas and David Williams are continuing to address the issues.
· With regards to planning staff refusing to accept a required report from qualified professional, as an example, I read a letter to the group which I received that detailed the bad experience of a couple on San Juan from two overly hostile new planners. I gave other recent examples of similar instances by the same two planners. David and Mike are both working on ways to avoid situations like those.
· During our discussions we suggested to David and Mike that required reports should be accepted on their face. David generally agreed but with the caveat that those reports need to be verified for completeness and accuracy.
· Mike Thomas had to leave an hour after we started the meeting so we continued our discussions with David for almost another hour.
· David informed us he is moving one planner from permit application reviews to updating the CAO (Critical Area Ordinance). This is somewhat due to the fact the State Dept. of Commerce has “lowered the boom” on our county because the CAO was due for update back in 2017. The State is not going to allow SJC any more time. Therefore, the County Council has just re-directed David to get to work on the CAO update process. We all hope that this recently added workload at CDPD can be mitigated by more process efficiencies that David is working to realize.
· After we had the discussion about some of the conduct of the planners with David, he told us he thinks his planners are conducting themselves as they are, largely due to their lack of training and experience. He is trying to change that. David is now having two hour meetings with staff every Friday wherein he asks what specific issues they have and asks them to put them on the table for resolution. He said if there are specific concerns we should call him directly. There are several specific issues he has dealt with lately to resolve, which we appreciate.
· David said he was unaware of many of the issues we raised so he told us again that he wants to hear from us when there are problems. He told us that “he cannot fix things if he doesn’t know about them”. I am glad he wants our feedback about the department and hope everyone communicates both good and bad to David.
· David told us the County staff has to spend lots of time walking applicants through filing a complete application. He said staff is already spread thin so he’d like to find ways to avoid wasting staff resources on day to day individual applications for people who cannot easily get through the permitting process. (It’s not easy for anyone) This has always been a problem which probably won’t get fixed in my opinion. It is very important for all of us to submit complete permit applications.
· At the end of the meeting David brought up false rumors spreading that the County was no longer accepting Owner Builder Building Permit Applications or accepting plans not drawn by an architect. David emphatically denied to us that the rumors are true. He wanted to dispel any rumors and recognizes that San Juan County currently has a lawful and valid Owner Builder Permit Application process which the department is required to accept.
In summary I believe meeting with Mike Thomas and David Williams was constructive. We were all cordial and brought specifics to their attention. We’ve offered some ideas for changes like making Land Use step one in the building permit process, getting clear guidance for permit requirements early in the process, strive for uniform policy and code interpretations within the department and let people like us know when and what to expect going forward. There is going to be another meeting in six weeks on Orcas so those involved like us can have access to David and Mike Thomas to share their own experiences. Mike and David also plan for a meeting on Lopez around the same time frame.
Mike Carlson, President